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Tony Award–winning actor Nathan Lane starred in Broadway's The Producers and in the film The Birdcage.
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Though Lane was making a huge name for himself on Broadway, his film career was less than fulfilling. Limited to small roles in such films as Ironweed (1987), The Lemon Sisters (1990),
the underwhelming Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan vehicle Joe Versus the Volcano (1990), and Life With Mikey, costarring Michael J. Fox, Lane was perhaps best known to film audiences as the voice of Timon the meerkat in Disney's animated hit The Lion King (1994).
In 1994, after being offered the opportunity to reprise his stage role in the film version of McNally's Tony-winning Love! Valour! Compassion! (1997), Lane dropped out of the project, citing scheduling conflicts. This strained his relationship with McNally, who had been so important in Lane's career, but the two eventually reconciled.
In 1996, Nathan Lane made a career breakthrough on the big screen with his scene-stealing performance in The Birdcage, a hit remake of the French farce La Cage aux Folles (1978). Lane and Robin Williams played a gay couple, Albert and Armand, who try to pass as straight to win over the conservative parents (played by Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest) of Armand's son's fiancée. The huge amount of publicity generated by The Birdcage carried over into Lane's next stage production, a 1996 revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. His starring turn as Pseudolus (a role originated by the legendary comic Zero Mostel) earned Lane another Drama Desk Award and the highest honor in American Theater, a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical.
A guest star spot on TV's hit comedy Frasier led to the development of a sitcom vehicle for Lane by Frasier's creative team. Encore! Encore!, in which Lane played an opera singer who returns home to his family’s California winery when his voice fails him, won some critical acclaim but failed to find an audience, and was canceled after one season. For the hit film Stuart Little (1999), Lane lent his voice to the character of Snowbell, a white Persian cat and the mouse hero's nemesis.
Lane was busy with film work in 2000; he starred opposite Bette Midler in the critically-lambasted Jacqueline Susann biopic Isn't She Great, played a vaudevillian clown in Kenneth Branagh's musical adaptation of Shakespeare's Love's Labour Lost, and played an alcoholic entertainer in Trixie. He also provided voice-overs for the animated feature Titan A.E. and Disney's animated TV series Teacher's Pet. For this last project, he won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Series.
Lane became the toast of Broadway yet again in 2001 when he took on the role of theatrical impresario Max Bialystock in the mammoth hit The Producers, created by Mel Brooks and based on Brooks' 1969 camp film classic.
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